AEOLIAN (Artificial intelligence for cultural organisations)

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Humanities


How can we unlock "dark" digital archives closed to the public? What is the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in making digitised and born-digital cultural records more accessible to users, on both sides of the Atlantic? AEOLIAN (Artificial intelligence for cultural organisations) focuses on born-digital and digitised collections that are currently closed to researchers and other users due to privacy concerns, copyright and other issues.

Archives are meant to be used, not locked away. In order to unlock cultural assets, we need to work across disciplines and harness the latest technology. AEOLIAN brings together Digital Humanists, Computer Scientists, archivists and other stakeholders to transform the access and use of born-digital and digitised collections which are currently hidden away.

Analysing vast amounts of data cannot be done manually: automation is no longer a choice, it is a necessity. Artificial Intelligence can be used to improve access to non-confidential materials through sensitivity review, for example by distinguishing between personal and business emails. AEOLIAN aims to unlock born-digital and digitised collections and open them up to a large number of users.

Access to digital archives is essential, but we also need to anticipate the moment when born-digital records will be more accessible. To make sense of this mass of data, new methodologies are urgently needed, combining traditional methods in the humanities with data-rich approaches. Collaborations between humanities scholars, computer scientists, archivists and other stakeholders are therefore essential to make archives more accessible, but also to design new methodologies to analyse huge amounts of data.

AI and machine learning create opportunities, but also challenges, for libraries, archives and museums. The project will address larger questions in the humanities - including ethical and social considerations at the centre of current debates on AI and digital technologies.

The AEOLIAN project will lead to the following research outputs:
_6 online workshops , which will result in the creation of an international network of theorists and practitioners working with born-digital and digitised archives.
_5 case studies of US and UK cultural organisations . These case studies will feed into an open-access 100-page report for an interdisciplinary audience outlining avenues for future research.
_2 collections of essays published as special issue of journal or edited collection.

The final report will offer a roadmap on born-digital and digitised cultural assets, based on 5 case studies of specific collections in the UK and US and detailed interviews. Crucially, it will also develop specific ideas for interdisciplinary research areas to solve the issue of access to digital cultural assets, which could form the basis of future research initiatives.

Archives are of course not reserved to academic researchers. The online workshops and the website will foster public engagement on the topic of the changing nature of archival collections (from print to digital) in the twenty-first century.

The website will keep track of all the project activities in the form of presentation materials from all workshop participants, video recordings of workshop presentations, and case studies that will then feed into the final report. Associated social media will help us connect with interested parties - in academia, archival institutions and beyond.


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